"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, April 06, 2008


My first few days in Cape Town left me feeling distinctly less than whelmed.

Oh, it is a pretty city all right. In fact I can’t think of any city I have visited that has a better situation with Table Mountain on one side and the beautifully realised waterfront on the other.

But, as for food, well, it was all savagely mediocre with restaurants, particularly along Long St, serving harmless, cheap food to hordes of backpackers and high end places offering up pale imitations of better restaurants in bigger cities. None of it was actively nasty, but none of it was actively any good.

In many ways it reminded me of Sydney which also under whelmed. It speaks volumes that, in my first few days, the best thing I ate was a boerwors from a street stall in Long St.

Two things happened to change my opinions.

First, a friend, Neil, arrived from London to join me on the South African and Mozambique legs of the trip which meant I did not feel so much like Billy no mates. He accompanied me for a visit to Robben Island where we were shown the cell in which Mandela was incarcerated for eighteen long years. A moving experience.

Secondly, we met my new chum, Emil Den Dulk, local Cape Townian and owner of Liquidity, one of the best wine and spirit distributors in South Africa. He is also the son of Emil Snr, who owns De Toren amongst the most revered boutique wineries in the whole country and whose Bordeaux blend wines have been rated at the 90+ by both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker (if such things matter to you)

Emil took us under his wing first with an invitation to join him and his friends at “A TASTE OF CAPE TOWN” a showcase for all the local restaurants where he introduced us to a host of cooks and wine makers as well as supplying us with samples of dishes from many of the best places in town.

Better still, he agreed to collect us yesterday after we freshened up, following a hike to the top of Table Mountain, and take us the 40km out to the De Toren farm in Stellenbosch to join him and his family for a brai.

Now, in South Africa, your brai is close to a religion. They like their meat and, soon after we arrived, Emil was busy slicing inch thick steaks from a 10kgs strip of sirloin, rolling up some more of that spicy South African sausage to throw on the grill and ripping up chunks of spicy wet biltong for us to chew on in the meantime.

While Emil grilled, Emil Sr opened a few bottles of the wines from this small, but well regarded estate for us to try. Splendid stuff it was too. Unlike so many New World wines, the wines here did not taste like melted spangles and, despite the fact that the intense heat does mean high alcohol content, the Bordeaux blends have an elegance that explains their high ratings.

The steaks were pretty special too. Thick, juicy and medium rare as is the style here. With the traditional accompaniments of maize porridge and a tomato and onion sauce, they made a perfect match when paired with the wines.

Finally, Emil plopped open a bottle of South African brandy and we sat in silence on their deck enjoying the stars and the silhouettes of the mountains in the far distance.

My first impressions may not have been too positive but, with the help and generosity of a local family Cape Town shot up in my estimation from being just a pretty city to being a pretty special city.

Next up, a tour around some of the major wineries of the region.

P.S. The last image is one for the “foreigners are funny” file.

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